If you were to ask me what single thing you could do to become a more powerful communicator I'd give you a one-word answer: Read. Read for information, application, inspiration and context.
The relationship between reading and leading is well documented. Major General John Vermillion contends in his article "The Pillars of Generalship," that "Commanders who communicate well orally and in writing are likely to have developed this ability over long years of wide reading. Indeed, we may take as axiomatic the proposition that great leaders are great readers."
By "read for information" I'm talking about such publications as daily newspapers, newsweeklies and monthly trade magazines like Law and Order, as well as Web pages, e-mails and e-zines. These provide grist for the PIO mill.
By "application" I refer to instructional articles like "Conquering Your Fear of Public Speaking" or books such as Managing at the Speed of Change by Daryl Conner, Effective Public Relations by Cutlip, Center and Broom, or The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.
These how-to guides point the way from knowing to doing. In fact, in Habits, Covey addressed the importance of reading. "The person who doesn't read is no better than the person who can't read." He recommended starting with a goal of reading a book a month, increasing to a book every two weeks and then to a book a week.
William Faulkner suggested: "Read. Read. Read. Read everything- classics good and bad, and see how they do it- just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write."
Words are the foundation of all effective communication, and for PIOs they are the tools of the trade. We have developed skill and a love for words, whether written or spoken. A PIO who can't use words is about as valuable as a carpenter who can't use a hammer.
For me, "inspiration" often comes from biographies. Rudy Giuliani notes in his book Leadership that in the hours immediately following the 9-11 attacks and for weeks afterward, he was inspired by Winston Churchill. Giuliani said, "Suppose Churchill had walked out from 10 Downing Street during the Battle of Britain and said 'There's really not much we can do about this.' ...I wasn't comparing myself to Churchill; but his words were too inspiring to ignore. Above all, it was a …